Huaraz y Santa Cruz Trek

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Aug 29, 2010

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

We arrived in Huaraz after transfering in Chimbote via El Caņon del Pato (Duck Canyon). This is the scenic route that takes less time than the paved route when coming from the North. It is also a death-defying, hair-raising ride on a seemingly hellbound bus that skirts 1000 ft deep canyons inches from the edge and plows through each of the 30 tunnels en route at 40 mph blowing its horn to warn oncoming traffic in the one-way tunnel of the impending collision.

Long story short, I (Evan) thought it was awesome and Robin thought it was terrifying. Airplanes should be no problem for her now.

The mountian views from the city alone are unreal. Huarascan (the tallest in Peru at 6700 meters) dominates but there are multiple glaciated peaks that are equally impressive.

Anyhow, after thanking the driver for not killing us we made our way through Huaraz and to our hostel. There we hatched plans and quickly convinced ourselves to do a multiday trek rather than just do day trips. The Santa Cruz trek was extremely popular (kind of a downside) but it was the right length (4 days) and it was popular for a reason.

We had no more backpacking gear than packs and sturdy trail running shoes, so we rented everything else for about $10 a day from Montclimb in Huaraz. We stocked up on pasta, dried soup, and mate de coca (coca leaf tea that is supposed to help with altitude). The hostel let us store all our other junk there and we set off to catch the 9:30 Renzo ?sp? bus to Vacaria. We intended to do the hike from East to West, contrary to the Lonely Planet directions, but as was recommened by the helpful people at Casa de Guias. This ended up being the way to go.


5 hour bus ride from Huaraz to Vacaria. Once again, a crazy bus that crawled through switchbacks to get over a 15k ft pass. We got to Vacaria right around noon and set out with two other couples we had met in the rental shop and had convinced to take the bus with us.

The hike was pretty mellow, we cruzed past some little villages, got our park entrance tickets checked (make sure you get one on the drive in) and proceded up the valley.

After a little way up the trail we ran into what would become a reoccuring theme: groups of pack mules carrying peoples gear for them so they could hike with just day packs and show up to a nice steak dinner in camp. If youīre old and/or sick (or have a bunch of technical gear for mountaineering) then this is cool, but the donkeys wonder all over widening the trails upon which they liberally cover in crap. This was my only complaint of the trip. Anyway, that wasnīt really that huge a deal in the sceme of things, just unlike my usual backpacking trips.

There were two possible campsites we could have stayed at that night, we were shooting for the further one so we could press on the next day and make it to the base camp of Alpamayo, which was voted the most beautiful mountain in the world.

We pushed on to the further campsite Tuctu, I think, and quickly tried to set up camp before the rainstorm we saw developling down the valley caught up to us. The tent went up no problem, and I was in charge of getting the stove started so we could eat some pasta.

This was my first time using this type of white gas stove (for those who know what Iīm talking about it was like the old version of the MSR WhisperLite, it was loud as hell). Anyway, I got it started just fine, but apparently I needed to pump it more (I thought it would selfpressurize as it heated up) because it never boiled the water.

We decided to throw the pasta in even though it wasnīt boiling because we wanted to eat and go to bed because it was raining. The pasta turned into a big glob, but hell we were camping, we could eat it. We dished it up and then I realized our mistake. We had taken the water from the river, which because we were in the wilderness of Peru and at about 13000 ft I would expect would be free of most nasty kritters. However, this was the "wilderness" of Peru and thus there were cows all over the place and they had surely soiled this once pristine creek. Well shit. The stove didnīt boil the water so there was probably all sorts of nasties still living in there.

I poured it out, reboiled some water after pumping the heck out of the stove to get a good flame going and we made our extra food: top ramen. Delicious and cow shit free.


We woke up to a clear morning with clear views of the 18000 ft peaks surrounding us. Unbelievable. Fired the stove up and after oatmeal and coca tea we were ready to tackle the crux of the hike: Punta Union at 15,600 ft, roughly 3,000 ft of gain at high altitude.

No problem. The walk up to it was pretty mellow, then the climb starts and gets pretty steep towards the end with a bunch of stone steps. We went slow, but neither of us passed out or got splitting headaches as we had when climbing around Quito.

The view from Punta Union surpassed the incredible ones we had already taken in. We could see all the way down the valley and had grand views of multiple glaciated peaks as well as a gorgeous crystal-clear alpine lake for good measure. We took lunch before heading down the long switchbacks to Taullipampa camp, where most people spend the second night.

We took a 20 minute break in Taullipampa before continuing on up a side valley to Alpamayo base camp. We made it to camp an hour or so before sunset. The camp was full of mountaineers getting ready to bad Alpamayo or the surrounding peaks. The camp is at the end of the valley and the surrounding peaks are once again freaking awesome.


Knowing we had a pretty mellow day ahead of us hiking down the valley to our final camp, after breakfast we walked the half hour up to the alpine lake at the base of a glacier above our camp without our packs. Again words fail to describe it. Definitely one of the coolest places we've been. The clear water faded to a light blue and sat still at the base of an enourmous glaciated peak.

After packing up camp, we made our way out of the side valley and down the flat valley floor. We were amazed at the amount of cattle, horses, and donkeys left to graze at these remote, high altitude locations. Not to mention this was a National Park and they were litterally crapping all over it.

At lunch, we found the friends we'ed met in the rental shop and hiked with most of the first day. They had stopped before us the first day and camped at Tauillipampa the second night. We continued down the valley past a couple lakes and a wetlands complete with a few cool birds and even some ducks.

Our camp for the evening was appropriately titled "Llamacorral." Despite not leaving camp until around 11, we arrived at Llamacorral around 3, with plenty of time until the sunset at 6. We made camp with our friends and ate Doritos from the little shop at the Llamacorral. Later on, we played some Texas Hold 'Em poker with our French and Spanish amigos.


The majority of the final day was a long way downhill (3000 ft) on a dusty and hot trail. It was far less scenic than the previous days and we were glad to be quickly going down it rather than struggling up it as a first day like the majority of trekkers. We got to Cashapampa and took a series of colectivos (group taxis) back to Huaraz, arriving at around 4 pm.


This was the most beautiful hike we may ever go on. We agreed that this has so far been the best experience of the trip. I think it would be worth the plane ticket down here alone.

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Matt Resnick on

Awesome trip guys.

pub czar on

These 'remote, high-altitude locations' are less than a half-day's walk (and less than 3k feet up) from the villages at both sides of the trek. The mule wranglers on the treks are from those two villages; they do the return trip home (with a herd of 20 chest-high mules) in less than one day (!)

This is the animals' traditional pasture land... the animals roam free up there for 6-8 months/year, and work the rest. I thought it was surprisingly clean & sparsely populated up there, compared to an all-american cow field! The wranglers have little squares of territory marked out with rocks, and they (try to) keep the animals outside of the camping squares during trekking season.

Even if you banned the mules & horses & llamas, you wouldn't get the 'original' vegetation back, you'd just get secondary / invasive growth, and there's enough foot traffic that the water still wouldn't be potable. If anything else used to live there, it's probably been gone for hundreds of years. The National Park was only designated in 1975.

Evan on

Thanks for the info Pub Czar. It´s pretty amazing, those animals seem to just roam wild. Take it easy.

pub czar on

word, and thanks for posting the photos from the other parts of your trip-- i'm getting some nice trip ideas :)

dougal on

I so appreciate sharing your most Excellent journey from my desk here in Oregon. I know you will remember this trek for the rest of your days on the planet. Glad you are well and walking easy in between the spectacular bus rides. Be well-------Love

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